When creating content, there are a couple of ways you can handle music. You can use no music, which many users do. You can create the music yourself, which is less common. You can license the music you use, which can be costly. Or, you can use the music licensed through the platform you're using. When it comes to the last, you give up all control and leave yourself open to future copyright violations if those terms change. That is what TikTok users discovered this week after Universal Music Group (UMG) ended its relationship with the video-sharing service.
How does music licensing work?
To produce a video within the bounds of the law, you are required to have the rights to all audio and video within the video. If you create everything yourself, you will generally be in the clear (though there are some scammers out there who might make your life difficult, but that's a different issue). Using no music or music you create yourself will guarantee legal safety.
Another option is to license music, either through a licensing service like Motion Array, or to commission custom music. Either way, so long as you secure the correct licensing, you will own the rights to use the music in your content. You may have to prove your licensing, but with the correct documentation, you will be legally safe, as well.
The final way to deal with music is to use the licensing deals that the publishing platform has worked out. For those who create throw-away content, the bread and butter of services like TikTok and Meta's Reels, using the platform's licensing is common. But, this method gives all control over the legality of your content to someone else, meaning that at any point, your content could become a violation of DMCA and other copyright rules.
UMG changes the tone of TikTok
For weeks, UMG and TikTok have been in discussions over renewing their relationship. Those negotiations broke down and UMG pulled its licenses from the site. This means that anyone who had used any music from UMG artists, such as Taylor Swift, Post Malone, and Lady Gaga, woke up to silenced videos.
For a platform that thrives on videos of people dancing and lip-syncing, videos without any audio becomes far less engaging. Unlike Meta, which only mutes the offending aspect of a video, TikTok muted entire videos, even if the previously licensed music was only used in a small portion of the video.
A reminder to creators
This abrupt relationship change should be a wake-up call for creators, whether or not they were affected by this situation or not. Building your house upon a foundation you do not own is a recipe for disaster. Changes to services and licensing can massively affect your brand, and you have no control over it.
The most extreme version of this is a complete shutdown of a service you rely upon. For example, we've seen podcast hosts shut down overnight, taking down brands. But, having the audio removed from your videos is a close second, and one that could have been avoided.